So, Phi Brain. A show that baffled me for the past year more than any other series, and it did so in many ways. It was the source of many frustrations, but also many surprises. When the first season started it seemed like just an ordinary shounen series with very good characters. Then a second season got announced and things started. The thing is that the first season was very conclusive and didn’t really leave many plot threats behind. On top of that, it was all about Kaito and his history, and it really had this storyline that used its main cast at its best. So how on earth were they going to top that?
Well indeed, the second season didn’t turn out to be as good as the first, but it did so for complete different reasons than what I imagined. The creators actually came up with a new set of very good villains here. The charm of the first season, it surprisingly good characterization: it stayed here. There was cheese, Oh GOD, there was cheese, but it used this cheese really well to create memorable villains and actually ended up very heart-warming with a very good chemistry between all of the different members of the cast. The themes were great and it ended with a satisfying climax that really exceeded my expectations. So what went wrong?
Well, the balance is all over the place. The thing is that the stories of the first and second season are about equal in size, but the way in which they spend their time is very different. The first season had random stories: a first half of completely unrelated stories to flesh out the cast. In the second season however, every episode is important to the plot in a direct way. The problem however is that this show doesn’t have the material to fill 25 episodes. The result? Well, four episodes of solving the exact same puzzle over and over again. In a series that prides itself with its creative puzzles, that indeed is as fun as it sounds.
On top of that, the way in which this series manages its cast in this season is really bizarre and questionable. It all works out in the end, but oh boy, it has a lot of hurdles. Most importantly, the central focus of the plot is brainwashing. The entire cast of villains is brainwashed into acting weird and illogical. You do not want to know how long it takes for this to get properly fleshed out and some actual depth, because this series has spent nearly its entire airtime to get to that point. At the start the characters come off as shallow stupid and illogical bastards.
And then there is the great cast of characters of the first season, who honestly have trouble figuring out what to do in the sequel here. In one way it’s good, because the characters who did not have a focus in the first season can now really shine here (with the best example being Ana Gram), but it also is a bit of a shame to see once strong characters wander around slightly aimlessly and looking for things to do. Gammon especially suffered here, but also Nonoha is pretty bad. She keeps wanting to do something, and yet the creators hardly ever let her, despite hinting at how she still is important. Only near the end does that start to matter, and in the meantime she is just there for the token female to cook dinner.
Beyond that, the usual issues with Phi Brain still stand: when you think about it, it just makes no bloody sense. Especially the way in which this series seems to think that you can hack anything and do some mumbo jumbo in order to gather data are really bad if you start thinking about it even once. This show just has a story to tell and doesn’t care how illogical it gets, and yet it does this better than the likes of Horizon, because the story it does end up telling becomes pretty damn good when it wants to and is actually focused. I mean you can say a lot about Phi Brain, but it has a damn good cast of characters.
|Storytelling:||7/10 – You call that balance?! Riddled with issues, way too long (we’re at 50 episodes now and a third season has been announced!), yet surprisingly focused and well built up.|
|Characters:||8.5/10 – The saving grace for this series. Very good and heart-warming all around. A bit too heavy on the cheese though.|
|Production-Values:||8/10 – Definitely not Sunrise’s dream team here, though it has its moments at the beginning and end where it looks really pretty.|
|Setting:||8.5/10 – I have to give points for this series: it took a setting that seemed impossible to make believable: people fight using puzzles and brainwash each other in order to evolve human kind. And it pulled it off. Sure it took a lot of trouble, but it did.|